The Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) had just won the state assembly elections in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan in December 2003. An overconfident Atal Bihari Vajpayee government unleashed the India Shining campaign. Going a step further, it dissolved the Parliament early and held the 2004 Lok Sabha elections, hoping to form a majority government and get rid of the coalition compulsions that marked the NDA government.
Against the expectation, the poll outcomes were anything but pleasant for the ruling party. While the exit polls had gauged over 240 to 250 seats for BJP-led NDA, the BJP had to satisfy itself with just 187 seats whereas the Congress and its allies got 216 seats against 170 to 205 seats predicted by the exit polls.
The exit polls proved off the mark in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections as well. Against the predictions that the BJP would fall short of the majority mark, the party alone won more than 272 seats. Surprisingly, Congress suffered a heavy defeat and got reduced to just 44 seats.
While the results of the polling in Punjab, Uttarakhand, Goa, Manipur and Uttar Pradesh are scheduled to be declared on March 10, the veracity of exit polls is being hotly debated amid growing speculations around the start of resort politics. Interestingly, among others, the NDTV published poll of the exit polls this way: “A health warning- exit polls often get it wrong.”
As per the poll of the exit poll, the BJP will retain power in Uttar Pradesh whereas the AAP has scooped Punjab. A hung house has been predicted in Goa and Uttarakhand whereas the BJP has emerged as the largest party in Manipur.
“I don’t find these exit polls reliable. Most of them come across as motivated from time to time,” Jagdeep S. Chhokar, the co-founder of the Association for Democratic Reforms, told the Outlook. “The opinion poll activities in a country as vast as India can't be very organised. Some random opinions of the people can’t be passed off as a poll.”
While discussing the exit polls on Republic Bharat, Ratnakar Tripathi, a Varanasi based political observer, was quick to silence a BJP spokesperson as he said, “Let the real poll results come, you will understand that the ground reality is very different in Uttar Pradesh than what is being projected…”
In Uttar Pradesh, an aggregate of five exit polls have predicted 230 seats to the BJP and its allies and 151 to Akhilesh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party. With a total of 403 seats, the state’s assembly has a majority mark of 202.
In Punjab, which has a total of 117 seats with the majority mark at 59, AAP will emerge as the biggest party with 63 seats whereas Congress would retreat to the second position with 28 seats, as per the polls.
In Uttarakhand, according to the polls, the BJP could win 35 seats and the Congress 32. Similarly, the polls suggested that the BJP and the Congress are tipped to win 16 each in Goa’s 40 assembly seats with a majority mark of 21. Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool has been given three seats.
Likewise, in Manipur, which has a 60-seat assembly with a majority mark of 31, according to an average of six exit polls, the BJP is set to win 30 seats whereas the Congress could win 13 seats.
In fact, there are several instances where the opinion polls in India have gone completely wrong. For example, in the 2015 Delhi assembly elections, all pollsters failed to gauge the victory margin of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) when it won 60 of the 70 seats. Similarly, most of the opinion polls had predicted landslide victory of the Manohar Lal Khattar led BJP-government. They gave 71 to 80 seats to the state BJP in the 90-member state assembly. But the party couldn’t touch even the majority mark. Congress, against the prediction of the exit polls, sprung a surprise and bagged 31 seats.
And recently, most of the exit polls had a boomerang effect on their predictions as they failed to predict TMC’s victory in Bengal. While the party registered a decisive victory in West Bengal discrediting the exit polls that had anticipated a tight race between the BJP and the TMC that was given a slight edge.
Around the same time, in other states and union territories, the poll predictions proved largely true for the LDF in Kerala, the NDA in Puducherry and the DMK-led alliance in Tamil Nadu, the BJP combine in Assam.
On Monday evening, as the month-long polling in five states came to a close with the last round of voting in Uttar Pradesh, the opposition parties, barring the exception of the AAP, rubbished the opinion polls across the TV channels.
Maintaining that most of the opinion polls are based on what he termed as convenient sampling, Jagdeep S. Chhokar said, “Exit polls in real sense involve whole science. The samples have to be drawn in a logical and scientific way. But I am not sure as to what extent the organisations that conduct these polls, follow the basic rules.”